No one would deny that Buffalo Trace Distillery has been of enormous benefit to this community. It has revitalized the bourbon industry locally and internationally. It has provided jobs and donated to many good local causes. It has offered an impressive display of lights for all of us each Christmas.
A key stop for bourbon enthusiasts, it has emerged as Frankfort’s chief tourist attraction, outdoing Daniel Boone’s gravesite and the floral clock at the state’s Capitol. Many of us would also attest that it makes a fine sipping beverage. Its success has to some degree led to the community’s success as a charming and historic community on the banks of the Kentucky River.
That boom has also led to expansion as additional bourbon warehouses have been built on at least one farm contiguous to its property bordering Lewis Ferry Road, enormous boxes that dominate the landscape though fortunately largely hidden from public view.
Now that boom and the need for expansion threatens the quality and character of perhaps the county’s last undeveloped asset: Peaks Mill Road and the Elkhorn corridor. Buffalo Trace is reportedly planning to purchase what formerly was the Noel/Hines farm just below Arnold Ridge subdivision and nearby Peaks Mill Elementary School, a process that would require a change of zoning from agricultural to industrial before warehouses could be built.
This expansion would dramatically change the character of Frankfort’s last claim for unparalleled scenic beauty and historic legacy. In place of going along with the short-term benefit of additional tax revenues that these warehouses would bring, we should weigh harmful effects on the Peaks Mill corridor.
Such a change would open the door to landowners selling their land for more subdivisions and commercial chains. Arguably, changing the nature of Peaks Mill Road would give a green light to wholesale degradation of the area from 127 to Peaks Mill and beyond.
Why stand in the way of progress and promised prosperity? One, of course, must ask whose prosperity, since neighboring property owners will likely see their property values plummet. No one wants to live in the shadow of colossal eyesores.
The property in question is adjacent to a dedicated wetland, a relic of the time when the valley was a channel of Elkhorn Creek with a pattern of flow that carved a fertile floodplain out of densely forested upland. The wetlands that geology created feed nearby Cove Spring Park and is the largest remaining, and perhaps sole, expanse of extended wetlands in the Bluegrass.
A fire or leakage from one of these structures could result in another massive die-off of aquatic life in the Kentucky River similar to the one a few years ago at another distillery. There is also growing evidence that whiskey-aging facilities produce a black fungus that degrade vegetation, buildings and neighboring residential developments such as Arnold Ridge.
Finally, there is a safety threat. The intersection of Peaks Mill Road, close by the Peaks Mill School, is already dangerous. Adding additional traffic from big trucks transporting barrels of bourbon raises the risk of endangering the lives of pedestrians and local motorists, including parents picking up or dropping off their children at the nearby school.
Such a dramatic change to this idyllic landscape would require expanding the width of the road, not to mention the additional cost of repairing damage done by heavy trucks. It’s not easy to argue away these additional risks, especially when there are alternatives.
Imagine the threshold of the Elkhorn Valley dominated by a cluster of 15 or so four- or five-story monoliths whose sole purpose is to age barreled bourbon. This sprawl is counter to the vison for development described in our Comprehensive Plan.
Industrial development in the Peaks Mill area should not happen, especially since there is adequate industrial space available on land set aside to accommodate such needs.
It is the hope of many of us who live in the area and for all of us who enjoy the beauty and recreational amenities of Elkhorn Creek and the scenic countryside in which Buffalo Trace proposes to construct its warehouses that such buildings be limited to areas set aside for just such purposes.
Maybe we should be asking what artist Paul Sawyier would do to maintain the integrity of a special place that remains much as he saw it over a hundred years ago, a place that is replicated on the walls of nearly every home in Frankfort.
Buffalo Trace has an opportunity to confirm the opinion of many of us that it wishes to be a good neighbor.
Richard Taylor of Frankfort is a former Kentucky poet laureate who teaches English at Transylvania University. He formerly worked at Kentucky State University. He can be emailed at email@example.com.